Revolutionary dancing: No nun for the cause

I liberated it this from the Emma Goldman Papers.


excerpts from the article:


by Alix Kates Shulman
[Published in Women’s Review of Books, Vol. IX, no. 3, December 1991.]“If I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution,” said Emma Goldman (1869-1940), feminist heroine, anarchist activist, editor, writer, teacher, jailbird and general trouble-maker.

Or did she? Perhaps she said, “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution,” as my purple T-shirt claims under a picture of Emma looking demure in a wide-brimmed hat. Or was it rather, “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution,” as the quote appears in a 1983 “non-sexist yet traditional” Passover Haggadah?

In fact, though the sentiment is indeed Emma Goldman’s, one she frequently pronounced and acted upon, she wrote none of the above, notwithstanding that each of these versions and more has been attributed to her on buttons, posters, banners, T-shirts, bumper stickers, and in books and articles, for nearly twenty years. Here, rather, is what she did say, in her 1931 autobiography Living My Life:

At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha [Alexander Berkman], a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everyboy’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world–prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own comrades I would live my beautiful ideal. [Living My Life (New York: Knopf, 1934), p. 56]


Revolu-who? What’s that you say?


  1. A person who claims an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge.
  2. A person with an amateur interest in the arts.

So throughout my life I’ve done the things I’ve done and joined the groups I’ve joined and people have told me no… you aren’t what you think you are. That’s a this. And truthfully as I’ve collected other people’s labels like badges of honor and worn them all proudly: damned dyke, weirdo, communist, anarchist, deconstructionist, anarcho-commie artist, slam queen, literary giant, best-kept-literary secret, obscurely famous, infamous, unknown, unknowable, semitiocian, egotist, fat bitch, gender queer, bi-lesbian, lesbi.2, post-modernist, pomosexual.

I’ve never really understood what they were talking about. Do you mean who am I? Who do I stand with in relation to history? At tomorrow’s protest rally? in relation to philosophy? In contrast to who do I stand against?

I have been told I’m a bad activist for my love of all things pop culture: powerpuff girls, halloween candy shaped like brains, zombie culture, bad art, brilliantly bad movies, brilliantly crafted movies and book but inappropriate genres like horror, paranormal romance, fairies, mythology, paganism, nonvegetarianism etc.

One of the labels that tickled my fancy and was meant as an insult by a lover who told me I just was too uneducated/ignorant of what anarchism really to see that I wasn’t one. He labelled me a revolutionary dilettante. I adored this. It suggested I dabble out of lack of commitment to any single cause… I dabble it’s true. But I doubt anyone whose met me for more than a few seconds doubts my level of commitment. I have stubbornness that borders on pathology. But mama’s a rolling stone. I gather moss and people’s and philosophies because I believe there is room in the revolution, the world for all of it. That doesn’t mean that cowboys get to keep shooting indians, corporate masters get to keep locking up factories and fiddle while sweat shops burn.

No I definitely think that we should take away their rifles and credit cards, blackberries, “locked factories” and stock options and fiddles… but they must have some skills. No we’re not sending them off to work in those burning garment buildings or blazing non-union farms to harvest crops while we spray pesticides on them and stand outside singing songs of solidarity and revenge.

Jesus, haven’t we learned as that there is no profit in revenge? Just as there is no profit in profit? Still this is a dabbler’s opinion, I travel in the company of other opinions and try to understand them also. So in my rolodex of affection is the activist who did mediations between synagogues and white brotherhood groups. Just a few digits away from the “up against the wall with them” (them being nazis, child abusers, war criminals who run our governments in red or blue ties) spouters.

I dabble… which means yes, don’t put me on your firing squad (in front or behind) I will not serve and I will not serve well because my heart still says isn’t there something useful about everyone?

What does the CEO know… fiction/spin/pr and golf. If you don’t trust him to write press-releases for indie bands then send him off the golf course (liberated now and free to plumbers and poets etc) and let him caddy, mix drinks and give golf lessons.) Everyone has SOMETHING to give to the revolution. BTW golf courses will also be animal sanctuaries, the places that rehabbed squirrels and any animals that “den” and on no golfing allowed (or no golf hours) the perfect place to picnic, public park for organized events like egg rolls, big public bbqs with free food, shakespear and star trek in the park…

oh yeah, dabblers are visionaries! I’ll be there. You’ll recognize me: wearing my Hothead Paizon Lesbian terrorist t-shirt, carrying my powerpuff girl back with the entourage of kids, grandkids and lovers (dressed as Dr Who cosplay, anime, dora the explorer, disney princesses –regardless of their gender). Follow the sound of our dvd player or omg old cassette player from the good will playing hits of the 80s mixed with they might be giants, woodie guthrie and lesbian separatist balladeers. The dabbler family/tribe,  we will probably welcome you enthusiastically; eager to see what you bring to the picnic… and the revolution.